“Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda” NAS Event & Webcast, Tues. Jan. 10: Preview Q&A With Dietram Scheufele

Dr. Dietram Scheufele. Image by WiD / Christof Rieken; CC BY-ND 3.0.
The National Academies Report: “Communicating Science Effectively: A Research Agenda” is an important new contribution to the science of science communication.
“Everything we know about communicating science is changing, from the types of value-laden questions that new science raises to rapidly changing ways of disseminating and sharing information online. And a key challenge is to understand that.” —Dietram Scheufele

The NAS Committee on the Science of Science Communication, chaired by Alan Leshner, CEO Emeritus of AAAS, and vice-chaired by Dietram Scheufele of the University of Wisconsin, is hosting a public discussion on Tuesday Jan. 10 in Washington D.C. at 11 a.m. EST/8 a.m. PST to share the new report and its implications, and to offer an opportunity for questions and conversation. The event will also be webcast. You can view the webcast here, and follow along on social media with #NASEMscicomm.

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Recognizing Brooke Smith: Realizing The Vision And Finding COMPASS’s Niche

Brooke Smith and Vikki Spruill at the 2016 COMPASS Staff Retreat.

Vikki Spruill, author of this post, sits on the COMPASS Board of Directors and is president and CEO of the Council on Foundations.

Fifteen years ago, Jane Lubchenco (Oregon State University), Chuck Savitt (Island Press), the Packard Foundation, and I all sat together discussing the need for science to be better connected to the rest of the world. We had all come to this table from different paths: a scientist committed to ensuring that her knowledge and that of her peers did more than just sit on shelves and in journals; a publisher working to ensure complex ideas were accessible and relevant to the world; a conservation and science change-maker working to support efforts so that environment and society can thrive together; and me, a communication professional who knew just how important—yet how hard—it was to get scientists’ voices elevated in the media and policy worlds. We collectively wanted the same thing: for scientists to be effective communicators and to be supported to navigate their way to relevant and meaningful people and conversations. This vision would become COMPASS. [Read more…]

COMPASS Transitions: Looking Back to Look Forward

Brooke Smith

Fifteen years ago, I sat in Jane Lubchenco’s office at Oregon State University asking for career advice. Jane’s office is a reflection of her – full of accomplishments and warmth. There are stacks (and I mean STACKS) of manuscripts and journals around the office, awards both on the walls and piled up on top of each other, pictures of her family (by blood and by lab genealogy), and keepsakes from Africa to the Arctic. Even though Jane’s reputation intimidated me (and still does), she was warm and welcoming (and still is).

I wiped my sweaty palms on my legs, took a deep breath, and said, “I would love your career advice.” Here was my privileged dilemma – I was considering two great job offers. I could accept a prestigious Knauss Fellowship in Washington D.C. for a year, or I could accept an advocacy position at an ocean conservation non-profit.

I asked Jane what she thought I should do. She listened intently to my rambling and reasoning. Then, of course, she asked a question. This is something that we teach at COMPASS – to listen; ask; listen; share. Even if you (especially if you) already have an opinion, listen first. Her question was simple: “What do you want to do?” After a heavy sigh, my response was: “I’m unsure exactly what IT is.” I went on to explain how I love science. How I love the environment. How I love to connect people and ideas, think big, and try new things. How my previous work experiences in Washington D.C. helped me understand the public policy process and culture – including the surprising lack of science at the table during decision-making. I didn’t feel like either of these job opportunities were the right choices for me. I wanted to find a way to bring in the science, but in a way that made it relevant to all these people, audiences and communities – policymakers, NGOs, the world… but where could I do that?

Jane said, “Let me tell you about this thing a few of us are starting called COMPASS.”

She explained the frustration she and other leaders in the science, communication, policy, and philanthropy worlds felt around the disconnect between scientists and the real world, especially on ocean issues. “What we know about how oceans work, how they are changing, and the benefits and consequences of those changes,” she explained, “is not reflected in how people think about oceans or in our policies and practices.” We went on to discuss how scientists were not well equipped to get out in the world and talk with people about what they know. In fact, sometimes they are even discouraged from doing so. We also discussed how there were not enough efforts to elevate knowledge instead of institutions – and how co-founder Vikki Spruill was working to address this in the social sector, and bringing her innovative thinking to science communication. COMPASS was born as an experiment – a way to help scientists fulfill their social contract. I wanted in.

I started with COMPASS that week. Four years later, I became the first Executive Director. And at the end of this year, I’ll be leaving, secure in the knowledge that COMPASS is stronger and more vital than ever.

That’s because over the past fifteen years our mission has only grown more needed and our work has only grown more impactful. Our vision and goal: to help more scientists to get out in the world and transform, frame and accelerate critical conversations about the environment. Our shared belief: that scientists should have a seat at the tables where public agendas about the environment are set and advanced, but they need help getting there and being effective once they are. Our core competencies: training scientists, and connecting scientists to influencers of the public discourse. Our amazing team: we all love science, and especially scientists. We care deeply about the environment. We want to make a difference. We thrive on thinking big, making connections, and generously supporting others.

The COMPASS team

The COMPASS Team – our biggest asset in supporting scientists to engage in the world.

We found our ‘special sauce’ in our collective experiences in policy, science, media and communication, which blend together to inform our work and help us achieve our mission. We continue to tweak and update our recipe – evolving and changing in response to the world around us. And, wow, the world certainly has changed. We used to have to motivate scientists to get out into the world. Now, scientists want to engage. The research about science communication has exploded. New media channels are dismantling old information sources. The political pendulum has swung back and forth, and players have come and gone. And our environmental challenges – from climate change to water availability to ocean acidification – have become more urgent.

In response to these changes, we expanded our scope beyond ocean science to include water, fire, climate, energy, ecosystem services and other scientific topics about the environment. We developed ways to help scientists and journalists meet and learn from each other. We pioneered new ways to reframe scientific conferences to be more relevant to the world, by hosting journalist fellowships or including policymakers as part of these conferences. We’ve created space for scientists and policymakers – from the White House, to Congress, to state legislatures – to share, discuss, and learn from each other. We’ve created communities of confident scientists prepared to engage around topics like fire, ocean acidification, or marine protected areas. And with partners like the Leopold Leadership Program, the Switzer Fellows, the Wilburforce Fellowship and others, we’ve empowered new cohorts of scientist leaders.

As we navigated the rules of scientific engagement, our organization evolved too. We began as a project incubated at Island Press and then SeaWeb. We started with a single funder, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, that not only shared our vision, but was willing to invest in the long term to give us space to try, learn, and grow. Now, we are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit with a diversified revenue portfolio, including both foundation grants and earned revenue. Our budget grows each year. We’ve built a strong operational, financial and administrative base, ensuring that our inter-disciplinary team is supported to do its great work.

We teach a lot of things in our training sessions; one important lesson we teach scientists is to push themselves to a place of discomfort – that’s where we all learn and grow. So, after 15 years at COMPASS, I’m taking our own advice – and pushing myself to a place of discomfort. My decision to step down from COMPASS at the end of this year was a hard one and an emotional one. In some ways, I could happily stay at COMPASS forever – the people, mission and work embody that hard-to-define “IT” that I was searching for in Jane’s office years ago. Being able to leave an organization during a time of strength is all too rare. I’ve learned it takes strength to do it. I’m proud to have been part of building and defining what this experiment has turned into. Some recent personal events, though, have starkly reminded me that life is short. I believe in new experiences; there’s still much for me to learn, try, and do.

Someone recently said to me, “I can’t imagine COMPASS without Brooke.” I can, without hesitation. COMPASS is stronger and more needed than ever. The opportunities for continued success and growth are enormous. The team is a remarkable collection of intelligent, innovative, and passionate people. We get more requests for our services than we can handle. We have ideas and opportunities waiting to be pursued. We have money in the bank and committed donors. Our board – a remarkable combination of scientists, communicators, and political appointees (Democrats AND Republicans) – is engaged and ready to help COMPASS transition to its next leader. I can imagine COMPASS without Brooke, but it’s a bit harder for me to imagine a Brooke without COMPASS. I’m both nervous and excited (“nerve-cited” as we say at COMPASS) to figure out what that looks like.

My first order of business will be to give my husband and two amazing daughters, who have had to share me with COMPASS for many years, my full attention over the holidays and the New Year. But after that? Much like fifteen years ago, I don’t know exactly what “IT” is – but I know it’s going to continue to be about my love for science and scientists, connecting them to society, facilitating changes that allow for more scientists to engage, and working toward a world where both environment and society can thrive.

Our search for COMPASS’ next Executive Director begins immediately. We’re looking for someone passionate and energetic, aligned with our mission, and eager to lead COMPASS as it continues to grow and support more scientists to engage in the public discourse about the environment. The Board has retained Explore Company to serve as our search partner. Click here for more information, including a job description and Explore Company’s contact information.

Thinking About Your Communication Goals And Objectives: An Interview With John Besley And Anthony Dudo

Chart from PLOS One paper showing how different communication objectives for scientists rank against each other. The point, Dudo and Besley say, is not how objectives rank but rather, that establishing clear objectives in service of your ultimate goals - whatever they may be - is most important.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with John Besley (Michigan State) and Anthony Dudo (University of Texas at Austin), two social scientists interested in the intersection of science, public engagement and communications. Their recent PLOS One paper described how scientists prioritize their communications objectives for public engagement. John and Anthony, both housed in in their institutions’ advertising and public relations departments, are working to help us understand the interfaces between scientists and the public. I had the privilege of talking with them about their work, motivations, and why scientists who are working to engage should care about their research. [Read more…]

Find Your Way Down The Slopes Of Engagement

Confidence and competence on the slopes of Mt. Hood, Oregon. Both are as vital to #scicomm as they are to skiing.

This winter, I’ve had the privilege to witness a bunch of kids learning to ski (admittedly, while finally truly learning to ski myself). While supporting my daughters – one a future Bode Miller downhill-bomber, and one who’s slightly more cautious but still a strong skier – I was struck by the many parallels (pun intended) between learning to ski and learning to engage beyond your peers. [Read more…]

Going Public: What Do We Know About Our Investment In Science Communication?

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At this year’s AAAS annual meeting, the volume of sessions and workshops about science communications clearly reflected the community’s growing appetite and interest.  We’re notably moving past conversations about why scientists need to engage, and into conversations around how we can best support scientists to do so. Research shows that scientists do want to engage, but that they don’t have the time or resources to do it.

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The Hidden Curriculum In Graduate Education

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As we prepare to roll out the final #GradSciComm Report this week, I’ve been revisiting the moments of inspiration and flashes of insight that shaped our work. Like clay on a potter’s wheel, the best projects often begin with a vision but take on surprising and idiosyncratic texture as they spin into being.
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Want to Get Policymakers Engaged With Your Field of Research? Integrate Them Into Your Scientific Conference

Panelists from left to right: 
Michael Curley, Environmental Law Institute
David Batker, Earth Economics
Jody Springer, Federal Emergency Management Agency   
Mary Ruckelshaus, Natural Capital Project, Stanford University
Mary Erickson, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Laura Petes, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Moderator

This post is co-authored by COMPASS Director of Science Policy Outreach Chad English.

Scientific conferences are hotspots for researchers to come together to share their latest discoveries, form new collaborations, and glean new insights from one another. But traditional conferences can also be very insular affairs, where researchers geek out with one another and non-experts find it practically impossible to glean much value from the proceedings. For scientific communities that want to see their science used by society, we think the benefits of engaging policymakers are clear.  When done well, the very audiences you most want to share your science with become engaged participants and help shape both the formal talks and informal side-conversations throughout the conference.  So, what does it take to recast conferences as opportunities to integrate external audiences into these discussions? What does it take to engage policymakers effectively? [Read more…]

‘Tis The Season…To Build In Time For Reflection.

BrookeBlogImate

December, especially this week, is crunch time.  Instead of indulging in sparkling wine by the twinkling lights of my Christmas tree, I’m drinking coffee with my computer in my lap combing through elaborate spreadsheets. Because the calendar year is our fiscal year, we at COMPASS are knee deep in budgets, planning, forecasting, and administration.  Sound familiar? Perhaps your crunch time involves grading finals, submitting grades, scheduling the next term’s lectures, balancing your year-end budgets? Lots of us are drowning in what feels like a never-ending sea of things to do before we can finally put work aside for the holidays. [Read more…]

Maximizing Moritz Et Al: On Publication & Promotion

Max_Moritz

Max Moritz is the lead author on the invited review Learning to Coexist with Wildfire, published last Thursday in Nature. With its synthesis of wildfire science and management from three continents, Max and his co-authors strongly believe the paper holds real-world implications for people’s health, safety, and financial well-being. If you feel like that about a paper, you want it to be read and used widely; and if you want a paper to achieve broader visibility, you don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best! So Max reached out to COMPASS and spent the last two weeks of October working with me to think through what he wanted to say and working with his co-authors and university to prepare. [Read more…]